Sometimes cinema submits us into consent with images that tell us how to be, act or feel. The power of the Seventh Art can be wielded to create propaganda or to push boundaries. It is this power that makes it at once democratic, alluring and — in the best cases — disruptive. The past few days attending Miami Dade College’s 33rd Miami International Film Festival have, for the most part, brought fresh air into Miami by packing aesthetics that disrupt the normative dullness that Hollywood usually brings.

Some we have previewed, as Hans Morgenstern has written about in the Miami New Times (see the end of this post for links, as well as our last post: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures filmmakers talk about interview subjects and plans for next work: Trump). But a standout among the films that we previewed is a locally directed, produced and written film called Hearts of Palm (tickets:, which premiered Wednesday night. It was a highlight to have an auteur revealing her vulnerability, as she deconstructs the idea of a relationship and what it means when love is disrupted. Do two people manifest love in each other or is it an independent force that comes and goes? Writer/director Monica Peña (full disclosure: she’s a friend we’ve covered in the past: Storytelling through collaboration – Director Monica Peña discusses filmmaking and upcoming Speaking in Cinema panel) leaves it up to the audience to decide. Here, there’s no suspended disbelief; filmmaking is shown in Hearts of Palm as an artifice itself, an excuse to communicate ideas that in itself is an idea.

Ive Never Not Been From Miami Q&A

Peña was also among the locally produced short documentary filmmakers on local artists in an omnibus program called “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami,” which screened Monday (the image above is from the Q&A after). Peña (second from left) once again gave us remarkable work, examining the creative process with Hearts of Palm collaborator Lucila Garcia De Onrubia … It was a standout among the shorts that played on the giant screen at the Olympia Theater. There were beautiful tributes to dancers Ana Mendez, Pioneer Winter and Rosie Herrera by filmmakers Keisha  Rae  Witherspoon, Tabatha  Mudra and Jonathan  David  Kane, respectively. A couple of filmmakers explored their subjects with a sense of humor, like Tina Francisco’s Bob Ross Parody featuring concert illustrator Brian Butler and Andrew Hevia’s briskly paced story about actor/writer/director Edson Jean. A fellow called Swampdog captured Aholsniffsglue’s wacky persona as well as collectors’ and fans’ feverish interest in his work. Other artists explored with more gravity and insight included Agustina Woodgate, Cara  Despain  and Farley Aguilar by Joey Daoud, Kenny  Riches and Kareem Tabsch, respectively. While we’re dropping all these names we love, shouts are due out to some of the musicians who contributed to the soundtracks on some of the films, including Richard Vergez, Emile Milgram and Oly.

Among red carpets and sartorial flair, another stand out film was Eye in the Sky, which brought modern warfare ethics front and center. Now, this is not a topic that occupies much time in the airwaves or space in headlines, nor is it a topic that is openly discussed in many of the glossier Miami events, yet the film festival gave us the opportunity to pause and reflect on how it is that the use of drones may be negatively impacting the humanity of those very people who are on the frontlines of particular brand of combat. Director Gavin Hood is no stranger to Hollywood, yet his take on warfare through Eye in the Sky is a thoughtful and measured and does not dictate nor pontificate in a specific direction but makes the audience aware of the many gray areas that can animate policy and how the lines between elected officials and the army are not always as clear-cut as they seem on paper.

Gavin Hood in conversation with Festival director Jaie Laplante photo by Carlos Llana

It should be noted that Hood’s introduction to the film was quite epic in that he decided to finally speak at length about X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here’s just one quote from the night regarding the superhero flick, which wasn’t necessarily loved by fans nor critics, that contains a key nugget of advice for filmmakers. “It’s not the film I’m most proud of,” he said of the 2009 movie, “and I think that the advice that I would give to any young filmmaker is to be aware of this: I now do not start a movie until the script, which you would think is obvious, is absolutely clearly done, and I know that that’s the film I want to make, and it seems like such unnecessary advice, but that’s what happens.”

It was just part of a much longer answer to festival director of programming Jaie Laplante’s question of what it was like for him to turn from an Oscar-winning Foreign Language film (2005’s Tsotsi) to Hollywood. After Hood finished his rant, Laplante said, “I have to say I wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer.”

“Neither did I,” replied Hood, who was said to have asked for a stiff drink after the night’s opening conversation. Eye In the Sky did not have a repeat screening at the fest. However, it opened today in commercial theaters to very good reviews).


That day we also caught the exquisite Sunset Song by British director Terence Davies, a beautiful film about permanent impermanence shown through family, love and war during turn-of-the-20th-century Scotland. Though the Scottish brogue of some of the actors wasn’t always easy to understand for our American ears, Davies commits himself gloriously to a language that breaks through his indelible imagery. You have a chance to see it one more time at the Miami International Film Festival on Sunday (tickets: It stands as one of Hans’ favorites at the festival so far, one he would dare use the “m” word for (yes: masterpiece).

Sunday we had a day off and Monday was the “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” event, which ended with a party on the Olympia’s stage with a DJ who played music by David Byrne and Brian Eno as well as film soundtrack highlights from The Forbidden Planet. On Tuesday we saw the French-Canadian film Ville-Marie. Like Eye in the Sky, it was part of the festival’s “Marquee Series,” and the only of the four screenings that took place at the Olympia Theater. Preceded by a red carpet with the film’s star Monica Bellucci and Director/writer Guy Édoin, the film was informed by the female perspective. In a Q&A with the director before the film started, Bellucci embraced her age and status as a mother as being key to her performance. The movie’s story follows a mother who decides to bare her life on camera and finally reveal the heavy weight of her past to her son. The story was a powerful one, and from the conversation that took place on stage between Édoin and Bellucci, it was also a personal one that carried the weight of Bellucci’s own experience.


Last Friday’s opening night seems so long ago now, but it bears mentioning, as it too was a high-profile affair at the Olympia. It also featured an appearance by a huge star, the singularly named Raphael of Spanish music. We previewed it last year (Miami International Film Festival hints at Spanish heavy line-up for 2016). It did what opening night films should: get the film fest audience excited for the week’s celebration of cinema, premieres, parties and seminars. The film’s humor was distinctly Spanish with references that Spaniards would appreciate more than any other Latins. Director Alex de la Iglesia gets away with skewering the country and its popular culture that also features a glimpse of the filmmaker’s nasty side (in a good way). We hear the film is coming to the Coral Gables Art Cinema and O Cinema. Click the theater names for screening details.

Jumping forward to just last night, we caught two more movies in Little Havana’s Tower Theater. Paulina, a rather grim yet intelligently constructed film from Argentina’s Santiago Mitre. It explores the strength of a liberal minded woman who is gang raped and finds a way toward forgiveness. Actress Dolores Fonzi introduced the film and prepared the audience for what they were about to see. She called the role incredibly challenging and asked the audience not judge her character. It plays again this Saturday (tickets:


Afterward, The Forbidden Shore made for a nice palate cleanser. A hyper-active survey of Cuba’s rich and vital music scene, it also gives one hope that creativity can thrive on the authoritarian island. It’s an incredibly polished work by documentary filmmaker Ron Chapman, the director of Who the F**k is Arthur Fogel and The Poet of Havana. It might seem glossy (the still image at the lead of this article comes from the film), but it still gets to the core of music in Cuba: an irrefutable passion. It also has a second screening this Saturday (tickets:

Really, we can’t both agree that we have seen a stinker in the lot of movies we have caught so far. If none of these appeal to you, go out there and explore and take a chance, just as we are doing (barring a few assignments).

One of the reasons for this single (though comprehensive) post of our experience (so far) at the festival is because Hans was hired by several publications to cover screenings and talent participating at the festival. Below are links to all the other coverage he has accomplished, including some work in national publications:


‘Eye in the Sky’ Director Gavin Hood Talks About the Mistakes of ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’

Why Monica Bellucci Thinks Hollywood is Finally Coming Around on Great Female Roles

Filmmaker Magazine:

Film as a “Spiritual Memory”: Writer/Director Monica Peña on Her Miami International Film Festival Premiere, Hearts of Palm

Miami New Times:

MIFF 2016 review: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures Takes Audiences on a Journey Behind the Lens

MIFF 2016: Mountains May Depart Delves Into a Futuristic China Where Love Is as Complex as Ever

We will offer a wrap up to the rest of the films we catch this weekend, which includes several on Saturday and Sunday. Now we are off to catch Weiner, which also shows again tomorrow (tickets: Let us know what you might be planning to watch at the festival in the comments below.

Hans and Ana Morgenstern

Except for the photos from “I’ve Never Not Been From Miami” and the Monica Bellucci conversation, all images were provided by the Miami International Film Festival. The festival also provided tickets to all screenings.

(Copyright 2016 by Ana and Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Theeb_Director_Naji Abu NowarMiami cinephiles first had a chance to see the movie Theeb at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival earlier this year, before Film Movement picked it up for distribution and it took the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award at the festival. Full disclosure: this film critic was on the jury with Books and Books owner Mitchell Kaplan and Gary Ressler, the surviving brother of the man for whom the prize is named (here’s a recap of MIFF 32). We all had little doubt about this film’s strength as a debut feature film co-written by the film’s director Naji Abu Nowar and co-screenwriter Bassel Ghandour.

Theeb is currently rolling out into theaters (Theeb presents powerful allegory of post-colonial Arabia through eyes of Bedouin boy — a film review). The timing correlates with the film industry’s awards season, as it is Jordan’s entry to the Oscars for the foreign language film prize. It arrived in Miami for its Florida premiere riding a wave of accolades, including winning the Orizzonti Award for Best Director at the 71st Venice International Film Festival and, at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Narrative Film and the Best Film from the Arab World in the New Horizons Competition. In 2014, Nowar was also honored as Variety’s Arab Filmmaker of the Year. “It’s just been a crazy amazing ride,” admits Nowar, speaking over the phone, ahead of Theeb‘s theatrical roll out.

His debut short film, a documentary entitled “Death of a Boxer,” had its world premiere at the 2009 Miami Short Film Festival (you can watch the short here). It was there that he met Jaie Laplante, former Miami Short Film Festival director and current executive director for the Miami International Film Festival. The prize was accepted that night by Laith Majali, a producer on the film.


The reason Nowar was not present to accept his award during MIFF was because he was attending a screening of the film at a village called Shakryieh, in the Jordanian protected area of Wadi Rum. It was a special event for some of the Bedouin actors who participated in the shoot. For some it would be a first-time film-viewing experience. “They were all basically non-actors,” Nowar states.

The director said he found his actors during a year’s worth of research for the script with Ghandour while travelling around Jordan’s Southern desert region. They met different tribal groups from different areas. They found their actors while spending a couple of months in the ancient city of Petra. “It’s where Spielberg shot Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Nowar notes. “We were basically casting a tribe, and what we found was a subtribe in the Wadi Rum region — they were the last nomadic Bedouins to be settled — and so we really liked them because the adult men still had the knowledge of how to survive in the desert, of how to track, hunt, find water. They knew how to live the nomadic lifestyle, and they gave us a lot of information.”

Nowar and his crew took their time in both getting to know the tribe and teaching them lessons in acting, a period of time that took almost another year. “We decided to move in with them and to develop the film hand in hand with them and also cast the film there and direct acting workshops,” he said, “and we workshopped them for about eight months  in acting workshops. We did that for a year, and we shot the film at the end of the year.”


One of the film’s standout cast members is, of course, the boy who plays the film’s titular character, Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat. “He’s just one of these people who just have it,” said Nowar. “He’s very much a natural talent, and often the best thing to do with a talent like that is to get out of their way and just keep it as simple as possible and just let them be themselves and not try and over-direct them. He’s just a force of nature.”

But he was also a boy. “You just try to keep it simple for him and not give him Pepsi. If you gave him Pepsi,” Nowar pauses to laugh, “you’d lose half a day. He’d go crazy.”

Working with non-actors also forced the filmmakers to work in ways that they wouldn’t with professional actors. “What Wolfgang [Thaler, the movie’s cinematographer] and I both decided was that because we were dealing with non-actors — because it’s very difficult to ask someone with a lack of experience to do complicated blocking maneuvers. Obviously, we’re going for effect, we’re going for certain things, but as much as we could — we were just going to try to capture the performances and move with the actor rather than take the actor away from the move because that would complicate things for the actor.”

This deliberate style of shooting also works on other levels. The movie has several instances of violence that interrupt the scenes in a natural, startling manner, with little editing of the images. Nowar also said that a slower pace is key in representing life in the desert for the Bedouin people, something he came to feel while shooting on location. “When you live there for a year, your rhythm of life adapts to their rhythm of life,” he reveals, “and their rhythm of life is very, very patient and quiet. I think that has a lot to do with not spending a lot of energy because of the heat and retaining water. Then, if they have to act, then they will act very quickly and then snack and then do something, and then they will be back, very quiet and relaxed again, and so I wanted to capture that rhythm of life, and put you in that rhythm of life. It’s very strange to come back to the city after, come back to cars and traffic.”


The last point worth making about this film could be considered a spoiler, so if you have not seen it yet, you might want to stop reading now and scroll to the bottom to get your tickets. The film ends with a powerful change in Theeb’s character. It’s a brutal development that walks a tricky line of revenge and disillusionment. The movie ends with Theeb taking someone’s life. It’s a gesture that gives the film an inevitable ambivalence. It could be misconstrued as a scene of revenge and punishment. But Nowar is too deeply in touch with Bedouin culture to put the act in such a context. “It’s a moral dilemma and an uncomfortable one,” says Nowar about the film’s final scene. “For me, it’s not something you necessarily want to do objectively, but it happens. I think it would be good to be in that discomfort.”

He credits his niece for pushing him to make a leap into Theeb’s perspective with more genuineness than he could have conceived otherwise. He said after he asked her to look at his script, he got some invaluable feedback. “I gave it to my niece, who is a novelist and comes from an original Bedouin tribe, and she said, ‘You know, the problem with this draft, Naji, is you’re writing the story as if he’s you, a nice boy who grew up in Britain and Jordan.’ … [In Bedouin culture] there is no court or police. There is no one to intercede to protect his rights or look after him, and you’ve got to act according to your own conscience. You’ve got to basically take the law into your own hands. That sounds cliché, but that’s the way it was back then. In Bedouin law he has to protect himself, and he has to protect his family, and he has to stop this man from continuing what he was doing. I just didn’t want to shy away from that. I didn’t want to change what would happen in reality to fit our modern sense of civility.”

 *  *  *

For more of my conversation with Nowar, jump through the logo for Miami New Times’ Art and Culture blog. In this part of our conversation, the director reveals why Miami is such an important city for his filmmaking career:

NT Arts

Hans Morgenstern

Theeb is currently playing in our Miami area at Tower Theater and the Miami Beach Cinematheque. On Nov. 27 it opens at the Cinema Paradiso – Fort LauderdaleFor other screening dates in other parts of the U.S., visit this link. The film had its Florida premiere during Miami Dade College’s 32nd Miami International Film Festival, where I first reported on it in this post. Film Movement and the Miami International Film Festival provided images in this interview.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Mitch Kaplan of Books and Books, Jaie Laplante of MIFF and Chef Allen SusserIn its 33rd iteration, Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival is putting artistic talent at the forefront of all its competitions. Festival Director, Jaie Laplante announced changes to three of its competitions: the Knight Competition, the Lexus Ibero-American film competition as well as the short films selection. The announcement came Monday afternoon, over lunch by Chef Allen Susser on the outdoor patio of the Cafe at Books & Books, outside the Adrienne Arsht Center in Downtown Miami, and Independent Ethos was invited at the table.

The Knight Competition will now be open to any feature film, including documentaries, that have been directed by a filmmaker who has been part of the festival’s official selection in the past; allowing any talented filmmaker (local or international) to take part in the competition. Previously, the Knight Competition was reserved for films only from Ibero-America. Now, it is open to films from anywhere in the world, including Miami filmmakers who have been a part of the Festival’s official selection in the 32 previous years.


The second development, is in the Lexus Ibero-American film competition category, which was expanded to include all Latin American and U.S. Hispanic films, not only those that are opera primas. Filmmakers that create original works will now have more chances to compete for the $10,000 juried award. Finally, the shorts program will have more entries this year, as eligibility will include those films that have been previously shown in other Florida locations or streamed online, which used to disqualify many other shorts. “We’re excited as programmers because we really get to choose from the best work, not just the best work that meets our criteria,” said Jaie Laplante, Miami International Film Festival’s executive director.

The festival announced its call changes and call for entries among some of Miami’s filmmakers, film lovers and industry colleagues. IMG_9666Laplante said, “It’s very exciting. It expands our international content. It also expands our relationship with our Miami and Florida filmmakers that we spent a lot of time nurturing and supporting, especially in the last five years.” The new rules also mean that the Film Festival will become more competitive, which for audiences can only mean more to choose from all around the world. The 33rd Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival is already promising to be an exciting ride that will open the door to artistic merit above all other criteria.

The festival is now accepting submissions and will continue to do so until Sept.30. Filmmakers should direct their entries via IMDB’s Withoutabox’s Secure Online Screener System (link here). For submission rules and requirements you can visit the Festival’s webpage here. The festival will take place in Miami March 4-13, 2016. Stay tuned to hear the latest and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The last festival featured one of my favorite movies this year, Voice Over by Cristián Jiménez (Miami Film Festival Day 2: Voice Over reveals gargantuan obstacles of familial communication with humor and subtlety). We are looking forward to discovering new gems next year!


Ana Morgenstern

All photos by Rachel Lauren Bleemer. Mouse over the images to see the names of all these fabulous people.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

31 PlainThe Miami International Film Festival has just wrapped up another year of quality film premieres. Film for film, it may have featured the highest-quality programming I have seen at the festival ever. Unlike last year (Final weekend at MIFF: Trueba tribute, awards and aquatic-themed films), I hardly found a film to complain about at the 31st MIFF, but also I did not find the time to blog a daily diary of film-going experiences. Most of my time this year was spent providing content for the “Miami New Times” and its art and culture blog “Cultist.”

It began with a few preview pieces (Miami International Film Festival Announces Full 2014 Lineup). MIFF Executive Director Jaie Laplante has always made himself easily accessible, so it wasn’t hard to get him to admit to some favorites ahead of ticket sales (Catch MIFF Director Jaie Laplante’s Favorite Picks). We also talked about this year’s Florida Focus element, which featured more local filmmakers at MIFF than I can recall. I provided an exclusive report on that to “Pure Honey” (read it here).

Ectotherms - Still

One local filmmaker I was particularly impressed by was Monica Peña, whose short feature Ectotherms had its world premiere at MIFF. She was the only filmmaker I had a chance to interview at the festival besides actor/director John Turturro (more on his film, Fading Gigolo, which stars Woody Allen, in May). I was struck by the film’s patient, languorous quality, the warm, improvised performances of the actors and the associative narrative that turned death and arson into an incidental subplot. It’s a strange, compelling film that offers an appropriately surreal glimpse of a Miami few outside of the city know (read the interview here).

I had a chance to preview a handful of films before the festival began, which resulted in several reviews. None of these films were weak, but if there was one that was the weakest, it was Web. It’s strength lay in its subject: the One Laptop Per Child Program that began a few years ago. The program was designed to provide laptop computers to children in developing countries. Director Michael Kleiman went to two villages in Peru without running water and negligible electricity, much less Internet connectivity, to see how this program affected these small communities. He came away with an interesting picture about the ongoing effect of globalization. The question was not whether these tools could provide opportunities for people to advance with technology, but whether it would speed them along to irrelevance and ultimately a loss of culture. There were times when the director inserted himself too much into the piece, but when one villager begs Kleiman to not forget his family when he returns to life in the big city, it feels like a moving plea to conserve their culture.

Another startling documentary involving the web featured a more distant perspective, if a bit affected by a morose soundtrack: Web Junkie. Filmmakers Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam were somehow able to get a camera crew into a rehab camp in China for teenage Internet addicts. Web_JunkieCut off from the only thing that provided these male youths pleasure, the kids come across as pathetically desperate. When an off-camera voice asks one child why he is in the camp, he breaks down crying and replies, “because I used the Internet.” What may seem humorous at first gradually reveals a rather sad picture of a country that has taken it upon itself to raise children for families who have grown frustrated with their only kids.

From the extreme of these serious documentaries, there were a couple of truly humorous films from Latin America that added some delight to the mix. Club Sandwich by Fernando Eimbcke, the director of Duck Season, offered a rather shameless look at a young teenager’s sexual awakening while on summer vacation with his mother. What at first felt like an awkward film exploring a Oedipal complex takes a refreshing turn when the boy meets a girl at the resort he and his mom have escaped to. It’s still very awkward, as hormones remain the main motivator and not romance.

Another oddly humorous film in this mix was a U.S. Premiere: All About the Feathers. It came from Costa Rica and stood out as a quality work from a country you might have never thought of as having a film industry. It indulged in a deadpan sense of humor and focused on people often relegated to the periphery of life. All_About_the_FeathersThe film followed Chalo (Allan Cascante) a security guard and his quest to become a cock fighter. Rounding out this vibrant cast that miraculously never went over-the-top and silly, is a house maid who pushes Chalo to try selling Avon products, a young fruit vendor with a talent for the trumpet and a reformed delinquent who now works with Chalo. Featuring brilliantly composed, patient and distant shots, the film reveals just how important sincerity is to humor.

The most impressive film of this group of reviews had to be The Summer of Flying Fish, from Chilean director Marcela Said. A beautifully made, exquisitely patient film. Said, who has only directed documentaries until this film, shows an impressive eye and ear for building atmosphere. The land is often shrouded in fog, and a surreal ambient music permeates the many quiet interludes between the verbose fights between a privileged daughter and her wealthy land owner father, as the indigenous Mapuche people grow more and more restless. It all builds toward a potent finale that reveals a rather dreadful perspective on class divisions.

To read longer reviews in “Cultist” of these interesting films, jump through the titles below:


Club Sandwich

All About the Feathers

Web Junkie

The Summer of Flying Fish


Then it was on to the festival itself. I skipped the opulent opening night party and film, Elsa & Fred, on Friday night, and made The Immigrant the first film I saw, on Saturday. The James Gray film, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, was one of five films I dared to suggest as must-sees for “Cultist” (read that article here). For me, it did not live up to such hype. Though the film was beautifully staged, the characters felt a bit inconsistent. While Cotilliard’s Polish immigrant character at first felt rather heart-breaking (maybe it was the little voice she used pleading for her sister?), she later turned a tad too feisty to feel believable. Phoenix has returned to acting in fine form, a renaissance which began with the last Gray film he did: Two Lovers. However, whatever dynamism he was granted here did not suit him as well. Sometimes it all just boiled over into too much melodrama.

Another film I also recommended in the article but felt a bit disappointed by was The Sacrament, the latest film by Ti West. I was expecting him to give us something more than a simple take on the Jonestown massacre, but he did not. West was present at the screening and took questions from film critic David Edelstein and some of the audience members. The SacramentI also spoke with him for a bit afterward. He really seemed genuine about his attempt to come to terms with the horror of Jonestown. There were some seeming plot gaps, which he even admitted to leaving open due to budget and time constraints. Who’s to say if it would have ultimately mattered? It’s not like this story needs a gimmick to make it more terrible than it was. As West said, the true horror is what men are capable of doing with followers who have given up everything else.

In between those two films, I squeezed in a documentary: The Notorious Mr. Bout. It was a somewhat humorous film about a rather infamous figure involved with the black market gun trade. He happened to be the man who inspired the Nicholas Cage character in The Lord of War. The film successfully establishes Bout as a resourceful man from post-communist Russia starting an import-export company. He happened to ship guns on the side, but he became a typical easy target when the media began to be intrigued by his persona. Though his morals were loose, there is nothing incriminating Bout as wanting to support terrorists who wanted to kill Americans, but that’s still why he was jailed. By focusing on a person, the film actually presents what’s wrong with a justice system that wants to find blame in a persona when what really maybe wrong is a system that thrives on war.

The following day, a Sunday, began early with an afternoon master class by Chilean filmmaker/critic/author Alberto Fuguet. He’s the director behind one of my favorite movies at MIFF 31: Locations: Looking For Rusty James. Held at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, the hour-plus talk and slide show was entitled “A Very Bright Future: The End of Movies as We Know Them.” Alberto_FuguetIt was an enthusiastic talk by Fuguet that embraced the continuing digital revolution of cinema. It’s something I have been coming to terms with for a while now (To accept the death of celluloid), and Fuguet’s talk just provided another positive argument of not just coming to terms with digital as the replacement to 35mm but celebrating it for its possibilities of making more personal cinema and allowing for a larger range of voices beyond those with a lot of money who are more concerned with profit over art. You can read my full report here.

After his talk, I caught up with Fuguet to let him know how much I appreciated his documentary/film essay dedicated to Rumble Fish, as it too stands as my all-time favorite film (My personal favorite film: ‘Rumble Fish;’ read my ode to Coppola’s underrated masterpiece in AFI). He was thrilled to meet another devotee and shared that he was next headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Francis Ford Coppola shot Rumble Fish, and he, in turn, shot Locations. He was going to receive the key to the city on March 19, a day when his film will screen alongside Rumble Fish during a double feature at Circle Cinema in Tulsa. That day will then be officially declared Rumble Fish Day in that city (read more).

The class and conversation proved an invigorating day to begin day two of MIFF. I would only catch two other films that day, La La Jaula de Oro by Mexican director Diego Quemada-Díez and Fading Gigolo. La Jaula de Oro, which translates to “The Golden Cage,” but is ironically titled “The Golden Dream” for U.S. release, seemed similar to 2009’s Sin Nombre, but felt a tad more harrowing with younger protagonists who seemed to have even less of a fighting chance to make it. Indeed,  La Jaula de Oro was quite merciless in its take on their situation. The film follows four young teens leaving Guatemala in hopes of a better life in the United States. The trip is filled with peril, and only one of them makes it to the U.S. in the end. The way the children dropped out of the action, as if they were metaphorically ground up the inevitable dangers of crossing borders illegally, made for a powerful film.

The director was present for questions and answers after the film. He said the events in the film were inspired by true stories, as he worked closely with many immigrants during his research. la_jaula_de_oroMost of the extras were actual immigrants, and he said he hardly had to direct them. He even hired non-actors for the main parts. His approach is clearly neo-realism, as he worked under Ken Loach before directing this film. It was also beautifully shot and less earthy than you might expect for such a film.

Making it to the next screening proved to be an example of just how difficult it is to attend MIFF screenings at different venues. Miami is a sprawling city and with screenings in Miami Beach, Downtown Miami, Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and Wynwood, it can feel even more difficult to make it on time to screenings in different locations. I dared to have a sit-down dinner in between these two screenings, but ended up rushing to Downtown Miami for the Turturro film and career tribute, which was screened at a sold out Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center. I found a seat during the middle of Laplante’s opening speech, high up near the rafters,  as the lights dimmed for a montage of his film career. My full report on the rest of the evening can be read here.

I enjoyed the film. It maintained its tone throughout as laughs came consistently from the audience. Woody Allen co-starred with Turturro, who played the titular character. It’s a rich film that embraces the complexities of romance for more experienced individuals (read: older) while still maintaining a sense of humor:  Allen, after all, plays pimp to Turturro’s florist-turned-gigolo.

John Turturro at MIFF career tribute. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

The next day, I had a one-on-one chat with Turturro outdoors in Miami Beach that went twice as long as it should have, as it would turn out we would have a great rapport. Details of that interview will have to wait until May, when the film sees release in the Miami area and the “Miami New Times” will publish the resulting story.

The rest of that Monday was spent writing, so I could not attend any screenings. The following Tuesday, however, would turn out to be my closing night for this year’s festival, as a previously scheduled vacation loomed for the following day. It would turn out to be a dynamic day, even though it would only include two films, a documentary and a feature.

Supermensch – The Legend of Shep Gordon may stand as the most delightful film I caught at the festival. It was a surreal viewing experience, as I sat right behind the film’s subject at the screening. Gordon, a manager to such celebrities as Alice Cooper and Michael Douglas, seemed genuinely modest about being the subject of a film by actor/comedian-turned-director Mike Myers. The admiration so many celebrities have for Gordon stands as testament as how down-to-earth this man is. It seems to be how he has maintained such trusting relationships with clients over the years. His accessibility seems quite inspirational to Myers who kept the appreciation light and brisk, even with moments of serious exploration that showed that even a lovable character like Gordon can be lonely, too. The editing, also by Myers, featured masterfully interwoven vintage footage synched to voice overs of so many great stories, it never felt as though the film lagged. Gordon received a rousing round of applause ahead of a Q&A with more compelling stories from his past that kept much of the audience in their seats.

The second film of that night was Jim Jarmusch’s vampire drama Only Lovers Left Alive. It made for a great closer for this mini-MIFF. Stunningly stylish from beginning to end, Jarmusch treats the idea of long-surviving vampires with brilliant respect. Beyond the cute jokes like the names Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) for the leads, Jarmusch profoundly considers the effects of immortality on the minds of these creatures who still have a touch of soulful humanity in them. It’s fitting that the youngest of them, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who must have turned undead before her frontal lobe had fully developed, is the most troublesome. By the same token, it’s also apt that Adam would tend to agree with Einstein’s critique of quantum mechanics, “spooky action at a distance.” The sumptuously absorbing score by Jozef van Wissem is an inspired choice for a composer. I was glad I recommended it in my last must-see listicle for “Cultist.”

I was also able to catch Heli in that last list of must-see MIFF films. It may have been the most powerful of all the MIFF films encountered at the festival. Ana Morgenstern will provide a review ahead of its theatrical release in South Florida in the next few months.

Awards for the closing night of the festival were handed out on Saturday night. The winners included many films I did not get around to seeing (I did only attend about half the festival, after all). Some of these will probably appear at other festivals while others will actually see theatrical release. I’ll leave you with the full list of winners, beginning with the audience award winners:

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Lexus Audience Award:

Best Feature: Fading Gigolo directed by John Turturro (USA).

Best Documentary: The Mountain (La montaña) directed by Tabaré Blanchard (Dominican Republic).

The other awards were announced Sunday:

Knight Competition:

Knight Grand Jury Prize: A Wolf at the Door (O lobo atrás da porta) (Brazil, directed by Fernando Coimbra).

Grand Jury Best Performance: Nora Navas of We All Want What’s Best For Her (Tots volem el millor per a ella) directed by Mar Coll (Spain).

Grand Jury Best Director: Fernando Coimbra of A Wolf at the Door (O lobo atrás da porta) (Brazil).

Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriting Award:

Winner: Mateo written by Maria Gamboa (Colombia/France).

Knight Documentary Competition:

The jury selected two films to tie as winners in this category for the Knight Grand Jury Prize:

Finding Vivian Maier, directed by Charlie Siskel and John Maloof (USA).

The Overnighters, directed by Jesse Moss (USA).

Lexus Ibero-American Opera Prima Competition:

The jury selected a winner and an honorable mention in this category:

Mateo directed by Maria Gamboa (Colombia/France)

Honorable Mention: The jury would also like to give special recognition to We are Mari Pepa (Somos Mari Pepa) directed by Samuel Kishi Leopo (Mexico).

Papi Shorts Competition Presnted By Macy’s:

Papi Shorts Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film: A Big Deal (特殊交易) directed by Yoyo Yao China of China will receive $1,000. The film made it’s US premiere at the festival this year.

Honorable Mention: The jury would also like to give special recognition to Skin directed by Cédric Prévost (France). The film made its North American premiere at the festival this year.

The above award winning films joined completion winners in other categories, announced earlier in the week at the Festival including:

Miami Encuentros presented by Moviecity

WINNER: Aurora (Chile, produced by Florencia Larrea, directed by Rodrigo Sepulveda) will receive a pre-sale contract offer worth $35,000.

Miami Future Cinema Critics Award

Winner: To Kill A Man (Matar un hombre) (Chile / France, directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras).

Reel Music Video Art Competition Presented By MTV Latin America and TR3s

Winner: “Around the Lake” (“Autour Du Lac”) directed by Noémie Marsily & Carl Roosens of Belgium. The music video was performed by Carl et les hommes-boîtes. The winner will receive an opportunity to be placed on MTV Latin America and Tr3s websites.


The International Jury of SIGNIS, the World Catholic Association for Communication, formed by: Gustavo Andújar, president, and Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki and Juan José Rodríguez, members, give their SIGNIS Award to Belle directed by Amma Asante for its multi-layered depiction of the challenges to the value of human life and dignity wherever a profit-driven system makes commodification of persons acceptable. Masterly crafted, the film lifts up a variety of issues of conscience which still confront us today.

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Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

MIFF2014_posterToday is the day tickets for films at the 31st Miami International Film Festival go on sale to the general public. The opening night was about a month away, when I called up the festival’s director, Jaie Laplante. He had just finalized the line-up with three major, late additions to the program, bringing the total number of feature films at this year’s festival to 97. They included the new thriller Open Windows, by Spanish director Nacho Vigalondostarring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey. It will have its world premiere only a few days before MIFF at South By Southwest. There was also An Unbreakable Bond, a documentary by Emilio and Gloria Estefan about Marc Buoniconti, a man who turned a tragic injury into a triumph. Finally, he mentioned Kid Cannabis, a world premiere from actor-turned-director John Stockwell. Tickets to these films and the rest of the program can be found here.

We spoke for about 20 minutes that day. Laplante even gave up the names of some of his personal favorites. You can find out what some of those are, by jumping through the link to the art and culture blog “Cultist,” at the “Miami New Times,” below:

cultist banner

During our chat he mentioned one other favorite that I too am very excited about:  Locations: Looking for Rusty James, a film about one of Francis Ford Coppola’s more underrated films, Rumble Fish (My personal favorite film: ‘Rumble Fish;’ read my ode to Coppola’s underrated masterpiece in AFI), and it’s influence on young people in Chile when it was released in the early 1980s. Laplante called Locations, “a very different kind of documentary. It’s not so narrative-driven … It’s more of a personal essay type of film, extraordinarily moving, but a different type of film for us in the documentary competition.”

I only left his mention of Locations out of the “Cultist” interview of his favorites because I had already gushed about it at the end of an earlier post  in “Cultist,” which can be found here. 15_BAFICI_LOCACIONES-2It will make those who are already fans of Rumble Fish swoon and those unfamiliar with the source of inspiration for Locations will surely want to seek it out once they experience this special film essay by Chilean director Alberto Fuguet. Here’s a handy link to purchase the U.S. DVD and support Independent Ethos at the same time: check out Rumble Fish.

My interest in films at MIFF has always been the more experimental works, so we also talked about one of my favorite categories of the festival: Visions, which featured a pair of favorite films from last year’s festival, Leviathan and Post Tenebras Lux. However, this year, that section has been toned down a bit. “It’s much smaller than last year,” noted Laplante, “but we have two films in there. One of them is Ari Folman’s The Congress. The other one is a German film called Wetlands, which was just in Sundance. Both of those are programmed by Andres Castillo [Managing Director & Senior Programmer of MIFF].”

But those looking for interesting experimental cinema need not look further than Miami’s own backyard. Local filmmakers took the spotlight at the press conference announcing this year’s line-up. Click through the image below of some of these filmmakers on stage with Laplante at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson campus to hear a little from them:


You can watch the complete (uncensored) press conference below:

Finally, there’s a more focused article on local filmmakers that will be available in this month’s issue of “Pure Honey,” a ‘zine that can be found at hip independent shops and cafes across the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County area. Or you can read the article, by jumping through the “Pure Honey” logo below:


Of course, MIFF is also about getting the stars down to Miami. Though some big ones have already been booked, including what some would consider “living legends,” when Laplante and I spoke, he was still working on inviting a few more. Here’s Laplante on some of the festival guests that will walk the red carpet this year: “We’re still confirming a lot of our guests, but Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer are attending our opening night gala presentation [for Elsa & Fred], as well as director Michael Radford. We have Andy Garcia and Raymond de Filitta confirmed for our award night film Rob the Mob, a world premiere. We have, of course, John Turturro, who we are paying tribute to. He will be here to accept the tribute award in person. Shep Gordon is going to be coming and speaking about his experiences making the movie [Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon] with Mike Myers. Most, if not all, the directors in the competition will be here, as well as the directors from the Lexus Opera Prima Competition and we’re still, as I said, working on other guests, but those are some names I can tell you are confirmed now.”

The Miami International Film Festival runs March 7 – March 16 and takes place in several venues across Miami-Dade. For tickets and more info visit

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)